The All-Time Tournament: Conference Finals
Boston Celtics (1) vs Chicago Bulls (2)
Game 1: Celtics 106-89
The Celtics walked away with the victory in game one thanks to a strong second half and a decided rebounding advantage. The Celtics collected 16 more rebounds than the Bulls and limited second chance opportunities. Larry Bird led the Celtics in scoring with 28 points and Bill Russell and Robert Parish anchored Boston on the glass. Parish, who hasn’t played a big role in the Boston game plan during the tournament, provided the C’s with 9 rebounds in 12 minutes.
Game 2: Celtics 120-119 OT
Take a look at the play by play during overtime. See anything that pops out? The Celtics clinched this victory when Larry Bird stripped Derrick Rose at the buzzer. Whoever is coaching this Bulls team (I’ll assume Virtual Phil Jackson) is probably going to have to do that thing he does where he hands out books to his players. Provided he gives Rose a copy of Always Always Always Pass the Ball to Michael Jordan in the Closing Seconds of a Playoff Game When You Need a Basket. Is the title of the book a little wordy? Sure. Does the book have a good message? Absolutely.
Game 3: Celtics 108-102
As the series headed to Chicago, the Bulls needed a spark of some kind to keep their hopes alive. A promising first quarter saw the Bulls take a seven point lead into the second quarter thanks in large part to 17 points from Michael Jordan. But the Bulls weren’t able to hold the lead and found themselves in a six point hole heading into the final quarter.
Despite his scoring explosion in the first quarter, Jordan was quiet over the final three quarters, only scoring 14 to lead the Bulls with 31 in the game. Scottie Pippen finished a rebound short of a triple double (collecting 17 points and 12 assists) but it wasn’t enough as the Celtics moved within a game of the Finals.
Game 4: Celtics 101-95
And just like that, it was over for the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls managed to jump out to a sizable halftime lead but allowed the Celtics to climb back gradually during the second half. With 6:26 remaining in the fourth quarter, Boston took a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The Bulls would keep it close and pull within one point three more times but never get over the hump.
The Celtics were fueled by Bill Russell and his 18 point, 15 rebound, 4 block performance. However, Michael Jordan managed his worst game of the tournament at the worst possible time scoring only 15 points on 42% shooting.
The door to the Finals was open and the Celtics were the first team through the door. Awaiting them in the Championship would either be their historic rival, the Los Angeles Lakers or one final matchup in the legend of Bill Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain.
Series MVP: Bill Russell
*Photo via ESPN
It was over when…: …you look at the rosters and realize there are only two Bulls who would make the Celtics roster without a debate. While it’s been the story all tournament that the Celtics were a collection of 12 hall of fame caliber players, their dominance was apparent this series as they easily dispatched the Bulls.
Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs Golden State Warriors (3)
Game 1: Lakers 110-94
While it was Golden State who jumped out to the early first half lead, thanks in part to Stephen Curry hitting three first half three pointers, the Lakers surged back and outscored the Warriors by 19 points in the second half. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 24 points on 9/14 shooting and four other Lakers scored at least 15 points. Magic Johnson was the player of the game due to his flirtation with a triple-double (16 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists) as the Lakers took the series opener in convincing fashion.
Game 2: Warriors 111-97
You get the feeling that if this series was really played in 2015, the biggest story (no pun intended) on every SportsCenter would be the Wilt-Shaq matchup. If you look back over the history of the NBA, there isn’t another one on one matchup that has sparked as much of a debate between generations (possible exception being Jordan-LeBron). I like the idea of both centers being given a podium after each game specifically to trash talk their counterpart. It would be the greatest individual matchups thanks to their larger than life personas. Think about it—a series with Magic Johnson and Kobe on the same team and that would be a second tier story.
Anyhow, the Warriors fought back in game two because Wilt was unstoppable (27 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks) and the Lakers shot 42% from the field.
Game 3: Warriors 122-116
With the series back in the Bay Area, we had our first true clash of the titans matchup with Wilt and Shaq. Shaq led all scorers with 35 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks compared to Wilt’s 21 points, 16 rebounds, and seven blocks.
The Warriors clung to a one point lead heading in to the final quarter and pulled out the six point victory thanks to another red hot shooting performance from Stephen Curry (5/8 from three) and seven Warriors in double figures.
Game 4: Warriors 107-91
By all accounts this was a game that the Lakers really needed to win given how the series had unfolded up until this point. So while Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson struggled shooting the ball, the Lakers were not much better. Despite the poor shooting, Curry turned into a distributer and finished with 12 assists as the Warriors pushed the Lakers to the brink of elimination. It was the fourth time in four games this series that Shaq was outplayed by Wilt.
Game 5: Lakers 106-105
A presumably motivated Shaq hauled in 28 points and 16 rebounds including a short-range jump shot as time expired to breath new life into the Lakers postseason run. Pau Gasol continued his underrated and masterful series with 18 points and 12 rebounds (his fourth double-double in five games).
Despite being ice cold from beyond the arch, Stephen Curry continued to shoot threes finishing the game 1/9 from distance but continued being the main distributer for Golden State (11 assists).
Game 6: Lakers 104-93
The Lakers took advantage of their chance to push the series to a deciding seventh game behind a 17-4 fourth quarter run. Kobe Bryant dropped 19 points and Shaq added 16 points and 16 rebounds. Wilt was the engine that powered the Warriors behind his 28 points and 17 rebounds but it wasn’t enough as Golden State failed to close the series out at home.
After the game, Wilt returned to his locker to find a text message (because why shouldn’t these older players have modern technology in a what-if tournament??) from Bill Russell saying:
Game 7: Warriors 108-93
With the world watching on television and Hollywood’s biggest stars over the last 75 years in attendance, the Lakers fell behind by 14 at halftime and were not able to recover. Pau Gasol, who thru six games had averaged a double-double was held to one point and one rebound before fouling out in 11 minutes (good lord!).
Klay Thompson hit six threes and led the Warriors in scoring with 27 points. Stephen Curry added 12 points, eight rebounds, and nine assists but it was Wilt Chamberlain who exorcised his game seven demons and was named series MVP.
Series MVP: Wilt Chamberlain
*Photo via AP
It was over when…: I suppose nothing is over until it’s really over, but it certainly looked like the Warriors were in control for most of the series. When they jumped to a 3-1 series lead, the writing was on the wall for the Lakers. But for the sake of argument, it was over at halftime of game seven when the Warriors led by 14 despite an unimpressive first half.